#Colorado water officials to hoarders during #COVID19 crisis: Quit buying bottled — @AspenJournalism #coronavirus

City of Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff and Operations Manager Justin Forman check for anchor ice formation at the city’s Maroon Creek diversion. Colorado water managers have said there is no risk to water supplies from COVID-19 and therefore no need to stock up on bottled water. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (David O. Williams):

Municipal water providers in Aspen, Vail, Steamboat and other communities say there is no threat from COVID-19 in their water supplies and that people do not need to hoard bottled water — provided that the employees who operate the various water plants can still come to work.

And yet, two weeks into Colorado’s crisis, you still see people exiting the state’s grocery stores with shopping carts brimming with multipacks of 4-ply Charmin or Angel Soft toilet paper. And buried under the TP, you’ll spot the 48-bottle cartons of Arrowhead or Fiji water.

Toilet paper aside, water systems operators around the state — including ski towns, which are among the hardest-hit areas for the novel coronavirus pandemic — do not understand why people think they need to stock up on bottled water.

“Aspen Water provides safe, high-quality water that exceeds all stringent state and federal drinking-water regulations,” said City of Aspen spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin. “Aspen’s water-treatment methods use filtration and disinfection process which remove and inactivate viruses.”

The same is true for Front Range water utilities.

“We have wastewater-treatment facilities that work above and beyond the standards devised for us, so there is no worry that water would be impacted by COVID-19,” said Ryan Maecker, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, where surrounding El Paso County is second only to Denver in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

Those drinking-water standards, established by the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, are enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“The water is treated and it’s disinfected, which takes care of all viruses,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in eastern Eagle County, which has the third-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

Officials say water should be the least of anyone’s concerns during the growing outbreak, which has prompted an unprecedented statewide stay-at-home order and has seen most nonessential businesses and schools shut down.

“No, there are no water shortages. No, municipal water is not a vector for COVID-19,” said Zach Margolis, utility manager for Silverthorne Water & Sewer in Summit County.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is thought to spread in the following manner: “Mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) … through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

Michelle Carr, distribution and collection manager for the City of Steamboat Springs Water and Sewer, attended a CDC webinar on the topic of COVID-19 and drinking-water systems.

“It said that the coronavirus is essentially very susceptible to our disinfection processes, and that while our disinfection process targets bacteria, bacteria is less susceptible than this virus,” Carr said. “So, the fact that we’re treating for killing bacteria means that we should adequately be taking care of the COVID virus.”

Buying bottled water during the ongoing pandemic makes no sense, she said.

“Our water is completely safe to drink,” Carr said. “I don’t anticipate that there will ever be an issue where we’re spreading COVID-19 through the treated potable water system. The bottled water is completely unnecessary.”

Brooks won’t speculate on why people are hoarding toilet paper, but she does have a theory regarding the stockpiling of bottled water.

“I think (people) see communications on how to isolate at home, how to prepare to a shelter in place, how to deal with emergencies, and those instructions almost always tell you to get bottled water,” said Brooks, adding that some people inexplicably prefer to drink bottled water all the time. “I don’t particularly understand that because our water here is so great, and (bottled water) certainly has an environmental impact.”

The approximately 10-acre-foot Leonard M. Thomas reservoir holds water diverted from Castle and Maroon creeks and serves as a holding pond to settle water before it is sent into the city’s water treatment plant. Colorado water providers have said there is no direct threat to water supplies from COVID-19. Photo credit: Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News via Aspen Journalism

Staffing concerns

Various municipal, county and state emergency declarations have been enacted, covering water systems, but officials say those mostly just allow them to apply for state and federal funds or obtain additional equipment if necessary. Most water providers and wastewater-treatment operators are planning for staff shortages and doing everything they can to keep their staff healthy.

“We are not aware of any specific threats to our water system,” said Aspen’s Rapkin. “We have taken proactive measures to isolate our operations staff in order to continue to provide this critical community resource.”

Brooks agrees that staffing is the biggest concern as the virus spreads.

“Our biggest risk is absenteeism of our operators,” she said. “But, that being said, we can run with a pretty lean crew even if we got into some pretty significant absenteeism, as long as it doesn’t hit everyone at once, which we don’t think is likely at all.”

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which treats and provides water for users from East Vail to Wolcott along Interstate 70, took steps to mitigate against absenteeism early on.

“We knew that that was going to be our biggest risk and that protecting our employees was the most important thing that we could do. That’s our highest priority — to keep our staff healthy,” said Brooks, who added that any staffer with a symptom of any kind must stay home from work and not return until they have been free of symptoms for 72 hours.

Even if smaller mountain utilities were to be hit suddenly by a COVID-19 outbreak and get into staffing problems, other water-systems operators would step in to help. A cooperative venture among all utilities across the state and codified with intergovernmental agreements dictates that if a utility needs assistance, others will provide aid.

“So, if there’s somebody that has a plant failure, and we have staffing, we will send our staffing to them,” City of Aurora Water Department spokesman Greg Baker said during a call with other Aurora and Colorado Springs water officials. “I know Colorado Springs has been heavily involved in (mutual assistance) as well, so that should really not be a major concern.”

The desire to hoard bottled water, on the other hand, escapes officials.

“The bottled-water hoarding is a phenomenon we do not understand, because we bring safe, high-quality drinking water to your house,” Baker said. “We deliver it for a half a penny a gallon, so why are people going out and buying water? We do not understand that at all.”

Also, all the plastic is an environmental issue, Baker said, and transporting it around the state or out of state in bottles removes local water from Aurora’s extensive reuse system for irrigation and agriculture.

“So, whenever people take bottled water and start shipping it out, you’re kind of losing that reusable component, and that impacts our culture because we’re so used to reusability. So that hurts us there,” Baker said. “It also hurts us through the fact that, frankly, we have some of the highest-quality water in the state, and why do you need it in a bottle? It’s as irrational as the toilet-paper hoarding.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 28 editions of The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily.

5 #Climate Skepticism Tactics Emerging With #Coronavirus — Forbes #COVID19

From Forbes (Marshall Sheppard):

As an atmospheric scientist, I am familiar with the various myths and misperceptions about climate change that never go away even though experts have long refuted them. I call them “Zombie Theories.” Let’s explore five of the climate skepticism tactics emerging in the coronavirus narrative.

Click on the image to go to the John Hopkins website for the latest data.

The claim of alarmism. I have definitely seen my share of statements like, “What’s the big deal the flu kills more people every year, this is just alarmism or media hype?” The suggestion is that there is an overreaction to the threat. This is something very common to the climate science. Climate scientists Scientists are often called “warmists” or “alarmists.” That “flu question” may demonstrate a real desire for clarification, but for others it reveals a misunderstanding or misuse of the scientific facts. This is also common in climate change contrarianism.

The Livescience article at this link does a nice job clarifying the facts concerning the flu and coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He told Rachael Rettner, “Despite the morbidity and mortality with influenza, there’s a certainty of seasonal flu….The issue now with [COVID-19] is that there’s a lot of unknowns.” The article also makes another key point:

“The death rate from seasonal flu is typically around 0.1% in the U.S., according to The New York Times. The death rate for COVID-19 appears to be higher than that of the flu.” — Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer, Livescience

[…]

Dunning-Kruger Effect. This effect is very common in how people consume science today. In a previous Forbes article I defined the Dunning-Kruger Effect as”a psychological concept that people believe they know more about a topic than they actually do (or conversely misjudge how much they do not know).” The term originates from a scholarly study by two Cornell psychologists. I see all kinds of claims about coronavirus that are counter to what public health and medical experts are saying. I often wonder, in this social media age, if there is someone out there willing to debate a fish about the best way to swim. Climate scientists also face all types of opinions, theories, and “long emails.”

Confirmation Bias. Confirmation bias is the process of consuming information from sources consistent with what you already believe. There is an awful lot of information on coronavirus available, however, I am monitoring sites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) FAQ site and the World Health Organization (WHO). As a scientist, I want information from experts on the topic rather than someone’s Facebook post opinion or analysis based on an hour of “Googling.”

Cherry-Picking. Another common tactic in the climate skepticism narrative is to cite a scientist or study counter to the consensus science. It is important to note that healthy skepticism is vital to science and results should always be questioned in the peer-reviewed literature. However, a few results or opinions do not automatically trump a larger body of work just because it aligns with your belief. This brings me back to coronavirus. A few people in social media have referenced personal doctors and noted that they don’t seem concerned about coronavirus. I suspect many doctors are trying to find the right balance between providing credible information and not inciting panic. There certainly are enough public health officials concerned about coronavirus that I am too.

Former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC), a very strong advocate for climate change action, once told me that it is good conservative principle to prepare for all risks even if some of them are less likely than others. Many of us do this every time we purchase car or homeowners insurance. My takeaway from that statement is that a healthy dose of diligence is required with coronavirus but not hysteria.

From The New York Times (Paul Krugman):

Let me summarize the Trump administration/right-wing media view on the coronavirus: It’s a hoax, or anyway no big deal. Besides, trying to do anything about it would destroy the economy. And it’s China’s fault, which is why we should call it the “Chinese virus.”

Oh, and epidemiologists who have been modeling the virus’s future spread have come under sustained attack, accused of being part of a “deep state” plot against Donald Trump, or maybe free markets.

Does all this give you a sense of déjà vu? It should. After all, it’s very similar to the Trump/right-wing line on climate change. Here’s what Trump tweeted back in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” It’s all there: it’s a hoax, doing anything about it will destroy the economy, and let’s blame China.

And epidemiologists startled to find their best scientific efforts denounced as politically motivated fraud should have known what was coming. After all, exactly the same thing happened to climate scientists, who have faced constant harassment for decades.